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Protesters assail changes at WBAI radio

Published May 10, 2009 3:53 PM

Some 100 WBAI radio supporters and listeners, many of them activists in anti-racism, workers’ and pro-liberation movement organizations in the New York area, gathered April 29 on just two days’ notice outside the station’s Wall Street offices. They were there to protest recent proposed changes in the station’s management and support WBAI general manager Tony Riddle and program director Bernard White, both Black men threatened with firing.

WBAI’s Program Director
Bernard White defends
his station.
WW photo: John Catalinotto

Pacifica Radio’s WBAI, located in the center of the FM dial in the New York region, potentially reaches 20 million listeners. That makes it valuable and attractive to those who want to turn it into a profit-making enterprise or sell it, as nearly happened during the Dec. 25, 2000, “Christmas Coup.”

It is also the only broadcast medium in the region that gives voice to the Black Liberation and other revolutionary movements, as well as a broad and diverse array who counter the dominant ruling-class culture. Activist Pam Africa, Suzanne Ross of New York’s local committee supporting Mumia Abu-Jamal and revolutionary lawyer Lynne Stewart all expressed their support for Riddle, White and WBAI.

International Action Center co-director Sara Flounders and the December 12 Movement’s Omowale Clay, both WBAI local board members, were there. WBAI producers whose voices all listeners would recognize, like labor reporter Mimi Rosenberg, Francis Scott Keys, Bob Lederer and Don Debar, and Daniel Vila, who produces one of WBAI’s Spanish-language shows, spoke at the protest. Nia Bediaquo was the one Pacifica board member present.

Pacifica’s interim executive director Grace Aaron had issued an order to lock out WBAI personnel from the station’s transmitter and install remote-control broadcasting equipment, threatening the control of the local board. Aaron also approved the maneuver by the current majority of the local WBAI board to fire Riddle and White at an “executive session” without an official and thorough hearing. The board majority blamed the two for mismanagement based on WBAI’s financial problems.

Supporters of Riddle and White point out that the capitalist crisis has hurt all nonprofit organizations and many giant capitalist monopolies as well. To blame WBAI’s financial difficulty on the two Black managers without a thorough investigation is a reactionary attack on equality and solidarity. While WBAI should be stabilized financially, they say it must also maintain and deepen its roots in the many communities of New York that suffer oppression in this capitalist society.

To help defend WBAI, see www.justiceunity.org.